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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

“As a country we have spent billions on homelessness”

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Canada’s housing system is broken and, during this election, municipalities are pushing to fix it.

Finding adequate and affordable housing has become increasingly difficult — not only for low-income Canadians but for middle and modest income earners too. Low housing starts, high homeownership costs, and almost no new construction of private rental housing (even when 1/3 of Canadians are renters!) have prevented many Canadians from buying homes and has put a strain on affordable rental housing.

With little movement in the rental sector, there aren’t many options left for low-income families and individuals. According to CMHC numbers, the average rent for a two bedroom is $1061 in Ottawa, $1134 in Toronto, and $994 in Edmonton. High rent and limited investment in social housing over the last 15 years have left over 175,000 families on waiting lists for affordable housing, putting a strain on shelters and emergency housing. It’s not surprising then that homelessness persists across the country. Both short-term and chronic homelessness translate into the high costs of default responses such as shelters, emergency services and institutional systems. The City of Toronto’s analysis of its Streets to Home program estimates the cost of delivering services to the homeless can cost cities $48,000 per person per year.

After decades of downloading, local governments are finding themselves caught in this domino effect of housing affordability. Whether formally mandated or not, municipal governments are increasingly responsible for the social infrastructure in their communities, including housing. With key federal programs for affordable housing and operating agreements set to expire in the next few years, municipalities anticipate a greater strain on their resources and an impact on the most vulnerable.

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities, representing 1900 cities and communities across Canada, is calling on all federal parties to commit to targets for eliminating homelessness and filling housing market gaps so Canadians can find homes they can afford; to the renewal of expiring federal housing programs and housing subsidies, and to set dedicated funding levels for affordable housing in the long-term fiscal framework; and provide incentives to increase the number of new rental units built across the country.

Enough is enough – as a country we have spent billions on homelessness. Let’s stop the talking and the ad hoc spending and just agree, as a country, to set a clear target, and then implement a plan to make it happen: eliminate chronic homelessness in ten years. Other places have done it and it saves money and most importantly it works. Let’s just do it.

Hans Cunningham is the President of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities
photo by Andy Burgess



  1. Yes to this.  Can anyone help make it real using this election and promises for public spending?

    1. What does each party have to add to its platform to incorporate this target?

    2. Is there any phased, costed (net cost) approach to doing this – however rough –  that can be presented and internet-flashed before 2 May?

    3. If there’s to be any residential construction on our public land at Lansdowne Park in Ottawa, let’s make it contribute to reducing homelessnes.

    Not give it away to support big developers’ (read OSEG) construction of high price units that further widen the gap.

  2. Yes! While it’s true that most of this election’s focus seems to be on the economy and spending, there have been significant commitments to affordable housing by the Liberals, NDP, BQ and Green Party. The NDP have probably come closest to committing to the needed long-term solutions and specific targets to end homelessness in their platform promise to instate their bill for a national housing strategy. But the Liberals also committed to reinstating expiring housing programs and will put $275 million per year in a new, long-term affordable housing strategy. Stable, long-term funding will go a long way to expand and preserve Canada’s affordable housing stock . The next steps are simple: whatever party forms government on May 2nd, must commit, starting May 3rd, to a ten-year strategy to end homelessness. And then, do it.

    (Leanne Holt, Policy Advisor, FCM)